Investing in maths and science

There is plenty of evidence that Norwegian school pupils underperform in maths and science, which may lead to future skills shortages in the labour market. That’s why the government is working on a new national maths and science strategy, to be introduced in 2015.

pupils-elever
Credit: Sveinung Ystad

On 7 March 2014, the Minister of Education and Research visited the maths and science event Girl Geek Dinners at the University of Oslo. From left: Sunniva Rose, Selda Ekiz, Torbjørn Røe Isaksen and Tale Sundlisæter – with liquid nitrogen.

The international TIMSS survey shows a clear improvement in the maths and science performance of Norwegian fourth and eighth grade students since 2003, with the exception of eighth grade science, where the level remained stable from 2003 to 2011. Norwegian fifth grade students, meanwhile, scored better at maths and science than their counterparts in our Nordic neighbours. 

However, Norwegian 15-year-olds did less well in the 2012 PISA survey. Their maths results were slightly worse than in the previous survey in 2009, although they were stable when compared with the 2003 survey. The performance in science was also slightly poorer than in 2009. The survey showed that almost a quarter of students were at the lowest maths level, while hardly any were at the highest level. 

“The PISA survey demonstrates that we have a problem with maths and science education in Norway. This has a negative impact on course completion rates in upper secondary education, recruitment to maths and science degrees and the skills available to the labour market. I find that very worrying. We must aim higher than around the average for OECD countries,” says Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, Minister of Education and Research. 

You can make suggestions for the new national maths and science strategy by sending an e-mail to the Ministry of Education and Research at postmottak@kd.dep.no.

Women in maths and science

The proportion of female maths and science students and graduates hasn’t risen in recent years, although over 60% of students at higher education institutions are women. Norway is one of the countries in the world with greatest gender equality, but the country faces a big challenge in this area.

The number of places on maths, science and technology courses has increased significantly in recent years: in 2013, the number of students graduating in these subjects was 30% higher than it had been ten years earlier. However, as a proportion of total graduates, this is still below the average for OECD countries. The OECD average is 21%, while in Norway it is just 16%, as opposed to 24% in Sweden. 

Unfortunately, although the overall numbers studying and graduating from maths and science degrees has risen, the proportion of women on these courses has not. This is in spite of the fact that overall more women than men take a higher education. 

The same applies in research. Only 40% of PhD students in maths and science are women, and only 20% in technology. That puts us behind all of our Nordic neighbours. 

At professor level, the proportion of women falls dramatically, as it also does in other subjects. In 2013, only 16% of maths and science professors were women, as opposed to 36% of professors overall (NIFU).

Promoting maths and science

The government wants to increase interest in maths, science and technology, and to improve recruitment to these subjects. Norwegian students must become better at maths and science. These subjects will be given greater priority throughout the education system, from kindergarten through to research and the labour market. 

Municipalities

In the national budget for 2015, the government has allocated NOK 20 million to establish special “science municipalities”. The 20-30 municipalities selected to participate will be designated science municipalities for the period 2015-2019. 

The programme will be based on the Danish model of science municipalities. The science municipalities will form an important part of the governments new, national science strategy to be presented in 2015.

Kindergartens

Conferences on maths at kindergarten

In 2014 the Norwegian Centre for Mathematics Education has held five two-day conferences on maths at kindergarten. 

Conferences on science at kindergarten

Each year, the Norwegian Centre for Science Education holds a two-day conference on science for kindergarten employees in Oslo. Similar conferences are also held in other parts of Norway. 

Primary and secondary education 

“Science subjects for the future 2010-2014” is the government’s strategic programme to strengthen the position of maths and science in the education system.

The main goal is to increase interest in maths, science and technology, and to improve recruitment and course completion rates at all levels. Secondary goals include improving Norwegian students’ maths and science skills, reinforcing teachers’ skills and increasing recruitment to higher education courses in maths, science and technology.

Continuing education for teachers

The government is investing record amounts in continuing education for teachers, with a particular emphasis on maths and sciences. In the 2014/15 academic year, 1,300 teachers will be offered the chance to attend courses worth 30 credits through the “Competence for quality” project.

Motivation and Mastery for Better Learning

This strategic programme includes a module on arithmetic as a basic skill, which aims to help teachers make their lessons more practical and varied, in order to increase the motivation of students and improve their numeracy skills.

National centres for maths and science

The role of the Norwegian Centre for Mathematics Education and Norwegian Centre for Science Education is to lead and coordinate the development of new and better teaching methods and learning strategies in the education system. The two centres are working on a range of measures and projects designed to improve maths and science teaching.

The Norwegian Centre for Science Recruitment aims to increase interest in maths and science based courses and careers.

Regional science centres

At the regional science centres, visitors learn about technology, science and maths by doing experiments. The nine regional science centres that receive government support to help cover running and development costs have almost 1 million visitors a year. That is equivalent to a fifth of Norway’s population. 

National Forum for MST

The National Forum for MST represents all of the important players in education and research, the business community and voluntary organisations. The forum was established by the Ministry of Education and Research, and is led by the Minister. It has helped to develop the current maths and science strategy, and hosts joint discussions about the implementation of the strategy and the individual measures within it.

The virtual school of mathematics

An online maths school is currently being piloted. It allows both high-achieving and low-achieving students to find other students at their level, and will make it easier to tailor what is taught to students’ needs. It also makes life easier for lower secondary school students who want to take some subjects at upper secondary level, by saving them travel costs and other expenses. 

ENT3R (teaching and training in mathematics)

ENT3R is a programme that involves good students at universities and university colleges teaching maths and acting as role models to year 10 and 11 students. Between 2,000 and 3,000 students currently benefit from the programme. 

Bringing science professionals into schools

Some science professionals are working as part-time teachers at secondary schools, in order to make these subjects more relevant and to increase student motivation. 

The Natural Satchel

The Natural Satchel is a collaborative project between the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Education and Research. The aim is to use contact with local organisations to increase both students’ and teachers’ interest in and knowledge of nature, to raise their awareness of sustainable development and to increase their commitment to a greener future. 

Rollemodell.no

Rollemodell.no is a role model agency that sends committed and dedicated professionals with careers in science and technology to secondary schools throughout Norway. Their job is to inspire and motivate students to choose maths and science courses. Currently there are 700 of these role models in Norway. 

The Budding Science and Literacy project

This is a research and development project at the Norwegian Centre for Science Education that combines science education with basic literacy skills. The aim is for students to improve their reading and writing skills through their science lessons, in addition to learning about science. Teachers and researchers are developing and testing a variety of activities. The goal is to make lessons more meaningful, inspiring and effective. 

Proscientia

Proscientia is the Research Council of Norway’s project to encourage secondary school students to take an interest in research and science. Proscientia runs or administrates the Norwegian Contest for Young Scientists, the science Olympiads, other science competitions and a number of other activities. The Research Council of Norway is also responsible for the National Science Week in Norway and the Nysgjerrigper Science Knowledge Project for children. 

Academic acceleration

The best way to motivate academically gifted students is to enable them to progress faster than the rest of the class. Students in lower secondary school can do this by taking a year 10 exam early in year 8 or 9 as an optional subject. The Ministry of Education and Research wants to expand the number of subjects covered by this scheme. 

Higher education 

More places on maths and science courses

In 2009 the Ministry allocated 575 additional places to maths, science and technology courses, followed by 260 places in 2011, 400 places in 2012 and 255 places in 2013.

Centre for Research, Innovation and Coordination of Mathematics Teaching

For the period 2014-2018, the University of Agder has been designated a Centre for Research, Innovation and Coordination of Mathematics Teaching (MatRIC). It will lead innovation and research in maths learning and teaching, within other courses such as engineering, science, finance and teacher training – the so-called “user programmes”. The aim is for it to become a national centre of excellence for maths teaching, by creating a network for people involved in maths education throughout Norway. 

New framework for education in engineering

In 2011, the Ministry of Education and Research introduced regulations to establish the new framework for engineering education. 

Increasing throughput and reducing dropout rates within science and technology degrees

In 2012 the Ministry of Education and Research allocated NOK 3.3 million to the Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions to coordinate a nationwide three-year project ending in summer 2015. The aim of the project is to increase throughput and reduce dropout rates within science and technology degree courses. 

Scientific equipment for engineering and technology courses

In the national budgets for 2013 and 2014, the Ministry of Education and Research allocated NOK 27 million and 50 million respectively for scientific equipment for engineering and technology courses. 

Writing off teachers student loans

In order to increase the recruitment of highly-qualified maths and science teachers, the Ministry of Education and Research has introduced a scheme to write off teachers’ student loans if they have at least a Master’s degree in one of a number of subjects including maths.